Thandie Newton likes to take the lead. When I meet her, co-star Evan Rachel Wood and Westworld co-creator Lisa Joy–three of the HBO show’s fierce women–in a Los Angeles hotel suite, I dither about whether we should sit on a sectional sofa or around a table. Newton directs us to the table. “This is serious,” she says. “A table creates a kind of boundary. Let’s not be on the couch about any of this.”
Westworld combines cowboys and robots with high-octane violence and a trippy take on artificial intelligence, but it’s also a show with a great deal on its mind. It’s among TV’s most fiercely feminist visions, a series that subverts traditionally masculine genres like the cowboy serial and the sci-fi mind bender by giving women, well, a seat at the table. The show takes the iconography of the American West–would-be Marlboro Men, on steeds with six-shooters in hand, ready to save the maiden or terrorize her–and flips it. By the end of Westworld‘s first season, the women have seized control.
The new season (premiering on April 22) takes the show’s long-simmering tensions and ignites them. Westworld, which began airing before the 2016 election kicked off the current reckoning with sexual assault and misogyny, returns to a world in which the experience of women pushed past their limit has become central to our national conversation. “We’re all becoming more awake to that idea right now–the search for truth,” says Wood.